Movies Till Dawn: Biographies, Real and Imagined

The Changin’ Times of Ike White” (2019, Kino Lorber) Daniel Vernon‘s documentary plays like a Bizarro World version of “Searching for Sugar Man,” with its focus hinged on the re-discovery of another tragically forgotten musical talent – here, it’s soul man Ike White, who recorded a stellar 1974 album while serving time for a murder charge. But where “Sugarman” ends with Sixto Rodriguez reclaiming a portion of his lost career, the second-chance spotlight follows Ike White down a very different and difficult route, though the pieces are largely left to those in his orbit than the man himself. Part hero myth, part cautionary tale, “Ike White” is a unique surprise about a legend that preferred obscurity and a mystery that would rather not be solved. Kino’s DVD includes a trailer and image gallery.

Beautiful Darling” (2010, Corinth Films) Affectionate and bittersweet tribute to/biopic on Candy Darling, one of Warhol’s triumvirate of trans superstars, and forever enshrined by “Candy Says” and “Sweet Jane.” Director James Rasin toggles between archival footage and recordings of Candy (who died in 1974) and her circle/scene, interviews with friends and admirers (Holly Woodlawn, John Waters, Fran Leibowitz), and Chloe Sevigny reading from her diary, and new footage producer Jeremiah Newton, who cared for Candy during her lean years, when the luster of her connection to Warhol failed to translate into lasting fame, and continues to tend to her memory. Superstar scholars will appreciate the fresh perspective and access to Darling’s inner thoughts, where she struggled to balance her past and the outside world’s opinion of her and her own fierce devotion to her dreams. Corinth’s DVD includes the theatrical trailer and a miniposter of the cover art

The El Duce Tapes” (2019, Arrow Video) Hours of VHS footage of El Duce, barking voice of the nuclear-strength offenders the Mentors, fuel this documentary about the power of shock and its impact on those who wield it. The Mentors sought to upset and repulse during their tenure on the Southern California punk scene, and songs about sexual assault and fascism certain caught attention and plenty of flack. El Duce – aka Eldon Hoke – flew the gross-out flag both on- and off-stage, which led to national exposure on the lowest-rung television debate shows; directors Rodney Ascher (“Room 237,” “The Nightmare”) and David Lawrence assemble a grueling but watchable biography/confessional from the footage (shot by actor Ryan Sexton between 1990 and 1991) and interviews with El Duce’s bandmates and relatives; what emerges is a story of a grimly determined and subversive agitprop with a horrid backstory and a deeply warped, filter-free sense of humor who believed firmly in earth-scorching as the best form of art. Arrow’s Blu-ray is most likely the final word on El Duce, with commentary by the filmmakers and extras devoted to interviews with Sexton, bandmate Steve Broy/Dr. Heathen Scum, and lots of additional footage, including a cut-up of Duce’s deliberately pointless anecdotes, somehow rendered even more incomprehensible.

The Donut King” (2020, Greenwich Entertainment) The rise and fall of Ted Ngoy, a Cambodian immigrant who built something like an empire of independent doughnut shops in Southern California, is the backbone of this energetic doc, but for all of its inspiration and intrigue – the “fall” part of Ngoy’s personal and professional arc has the arc of classic tragedy and top-notch noir – the film’s most resonant takeaway is the impact that Ngoy’s trailblazing efforts had upon other Cambodians arriving in Southern California, who took up his relentless drive to forge their own businesses and identities here after fleeing such ugliness in their own home country in the 1970s. Director Alice Gu employs a breezy visual style and hip-hop soundtrack to lend buoyancy to her feature, but the stories of Ngo’s family – both blood-related and those who drew from his efforts – have plenty of energy and passion to spare.

Fulci for Fake” (2019, Severin Films) Curious but earnest homage to the Italian director Lucio Fulci, whose grisly and surreal horror films (“Zombie,” “House By the Cemetery“) won him a worldwide fanbase among the grindhouse faithful in the 1970s annd 1980s. Writer-director Simone Scafidi employs a sort of meta-framing device for the film: actor Nicola Nocella, playing an actor cast as Fulci in a biopic, is inserted into interviews with Fulci’s real family and collaborators – daughters Antonella and Camilla, composer Fabio Frizzi, special effects designer Sergio Stivaletti – under the pretense of conducting “research” for the role. The approach is hit and miss – those coming to the film simply to hear stories about Fulci will most likely tire of the ruse – but as the interviews about the real Fulci underscore, the director’s thorny persona, outsized temper and easily bruised ego have slipped into the stuff of legend, which is supported, more or less, by Scafidi’s strategy. Still, the anecdotes and extras on Severin’s Blu-ray- which include interview outtakes, audio recordings of Fulci and home movies – are the key appeal, and do much to illustrate the tumultuous arc of his career and personal life.

About Paul Gaita

Paul Gaita lives in Sherman Oaks, California with his lovely wife and daughter. He has written for The Los Angeles Times, LA Weekly, Variety and Merry Jane, among many other publications, and was a home video reviewer for Amazon.com from 1998 to 2014. He has also interviewed countless entertainment figures, but his favorites remain Elmore Leonard, Ray Bradbury, and George Newall, who created both "Schoolhouse Rock" and the Hai Karate aftershave commercials. He once shared a Thanksgiving dinner with celebrity astrologer Joyce Jillson and regrettably, still owes the late character actor Charles Napier a dollar.
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